Trademark and contributions

Hi all,

TL;DR There is a discussion going on (not so much anymore) in the issue tracker of a Python module I wrote about the usage of Pi-hole and pihole. The package name and the repository name were according to Pi-hole LLC, which is represented by Jacob Salmela, misleading and confusing including violations of the trademark. To make the community aware of what’s happening in the Pi-hole ecosystem I’m publishing it here too. The reason is that it affects the whole community and we, the community that is supporting Pi-hole in many different ways, need some clarification about the issues at hand and keep an eye on that everybody is treated the same.

To make it short: Pi-hole LLC is starting to enforce their trademark against community members, users and contributors.

It started with this issue but was also recently mentioned in the survey.

These pages contain the details about the Trademark and the usage:

Both pages don’t contain a release date or a version. So it’s hard tell when they went live or were changed. There is no annoncement or something that can easily be found and it looks like that Pi-hole LLC is/was trying to establish the content in silence. In a recent blog post from January 2018 with the title “Pi-hole Is Open Source: Consume, Contribute, Or Both?” was the topic not mentioned. There are contributions in the past month which were not aware of it. The trademark was granted in 2017 and described for “Software as a service (SAAS) services featuring software for the purpose of providing ad-blocking during internet usage”. My guess is that those guys simply know the law and say that their tools is not “for the purpose of providing ad-blocking during internet usage” but to work with that SaaS or software in question.

The Trademark guidelines contains, of course, “make fair use” like most of the holder of a trademark in the Open Source world do and will match most contributions. Pi-hole LLC takes this from others for granted for their own purposes. But it seems that is doesn’t go both ways any longer.

The usage of the workdmark now became a major concern which needs to be addressed by Pi-hole LLC better soon than later. The trademark holder can do whatever he wants. The community will most likely always be at the short end of the stick. Especially as the “Developing apps for pi hole” page is moddy at best and leaves plenty of room for interpretation.

This leads to the following points which are of interessest of developer and contributors:

  • How should thrid party apps use the wordmark in code comments?
  • How should third party apps use the wordmark in docstrings, Javadoc, etc?
  • How should third party apps use the wordmark in their documentation or description?
  • Is using for in front of the wordmark mandatory everywhere including module, package or other names? Also, in free text?
  • How should third party apps use the wordmark as a possible variation for the module name, the package name or any other name? Is Pi-hole LLC publishing a list with all those variations?
  • Will Pi-hole LLC going to sort out possible violations with their guidelines against other standards?

Currently it would result in something/for-pi-hole to pull a Docker container, go-for-pihole or importing the Python module with import something_for_pi_hole. I will not elaborate on this again because I did it already in a response in the my issue tracker.

You may ask yourself now: Why does this concern me? It should concern you because a part of your donation is not going in the development of Pi-hole but in chasing trademark violation in the community (of course, will Pi-hole LLC deny this and say their only concern are companies which want to make profit). To be clear, I’m talking about the community that you support, that you are donating to to keep it running, that you are part of, that you develop tools and bindings for, that you consume from (e.g., the providers of the black lists) or/and that you help to grow, perhaps for years. And, you or someone you know could be next on the “target list”.

Think about this scenario: Over the years you make a dozen of Pi-hole installations including provided endless hours of support for your friends, family members and colleagues. Your nephew or your niece is a smart kid and create the Open Source app “Pi-hole Button” to enable or disable Pi-hole. There was no such tool available from Pi-hole LLC to make the life of her/his dad easier because as a journalist, unfiltered access to the internet is required to perform inquiries and using a smartphone is much more comfortable than log in the web interface. You spread the word and everybody you know and 10’000 other are using the app nowadays. So far so good.

Now, there is the trademark. The app needs to be renamed to “Button for Pi-hole”. Can be done, no big deal. Well, actually it is. Your nephew or your niece needs to change, test and release the documentation, the descriptions, the summaries, class names, method names, comments, perhaps going again through a review process and more. The reputation could be lost and a migration path needs to be established. At some point people will start calling you because the app didn’t work anymore and they can’t update it automatically because the name was changed. You have to provide unnecessary support and couldn’t spent your spare time playing with your kids.

Fabian, please stop to tell us fictional stories. To be clear, there is already a first victim: “Pi-hole Droid” which is hosted at and listed which gives clearly the impression that it was and still is endorsed by Pi-hole.


This app is no longer available at the Google Play store due to complains. I will not go into details because I don’t know the facts. Here is the thread if you are interested and how it’s handled by Pi-hole LLC.

Just a side note about the reputation. The first hit on Google for a Pi-hole Docker container which is done by a community member shows a Pull count of 7’443’370 (please make the assumptions about the actual amount of users and the donations they make on your own). Would you want to give that up? I guess no, same as Pi-hole doesn’t want to give something like this up. Again, you spend hours to create it and maintain it for the greater good and the reputation is the only thing you have and get back. All your users would need to update their workflow, would need to change their scripts and it would render every blogpost or resource on the internet useless as the command to set up the container will no longer work.

In the almost 20 years I’m working on Open Source I saw all sort of responses to contributions. From a simple “thank you”, “good job, you will get a sticker”, “Dinner is on us”, even “Hahaha, you are funny btw, but please use your acutal brand name because our users are able to get the details” to “[The words you use when your kids are sleeping to says that you dislike the other person]”. This time was the first it started with “There are several infringements on our trademarks with this repo and installation methods.” Well, first thought: WTF is an “infringements on installation methods”? No, it was not the PSF writing. The installation method is perfectly fine, matches, as the module name, the standard and the description says what is about. Hmm, what about the “several”. Must be bad. Let’s go through the list. Oh, I need to collect and to evaluate it by myself…

I was very cooperative and addressed then as far as they makes sense because copyrights and all those things, incl. trademarks, are imported for Open Source. Offered to move the repo to the Pi-hole organization on GitHub, give them control over it and change the license to make the usage for you, the community and everybody else as smooth as possible. The current status is that I’m stuck. Thus, I need the support of all other community members to get the ball rolling again and get the clarification which is needed to ensure the future of the Pi-hole community.

Another side note for those who lost track of history. It’s not the first time I see this and you probaly too if you are around for a while. Guess what? Usually it didn’t end well. It’s the community that make a project what it is. Small helper tools, a little script here, a little commit there or the response to a question.

Doing weird things with package names and module can become a pain in the back for years for ten of tousend of people…how is one installing Apache on CentOS? No, sorry, it’s not yum install apache but yum install httpd. Very intuitiv and you don’t need conditions for different distributions if you want to deploy it.

Thanks for reading.


I will have a response for you this evening.

Like many open source projects, we do not work on this as a full time project, so let me apologize for the delayed response(s).

Yes, we do enforce our trademarks as it would defeat the purpose of them if we didn’t.

However, I’m open to modifying the guidelines as there are others who feel we are too heavy handed. Both of the pages you linked to are evolving pages. It’s not our intention to discourage developers or contributors but there is a fine line.

Take for example your repo with the command pip3 install pihole. Out of context, or with a non-technical user, someone may think that that is how you install Pi-hole when it is not. It’s cases like this where the trademark comes into play. It’s true, pihole is not Pi-hole, but saying it or reading they mean the same thing. We use pihole for our command line interface, not Pi-hole. But if someone else’s work may confuse a user into thinking a product is developed or endorsed by us is where we run into issues.

To address your multiple bullet point questions: you’re free to reference us in code comments and documentation. How else would describe Pi-hole without mentioning it? This seems to be your sticking point as you want highly-detailed answers about using Pi-hole in conversation. Perhaps that’s because of my approach with “multiple” violations. I’m sorry about that. My biggest request is that pip install pihole be changed to not be confused with Pi-hole.

Referencing Pi-hole Droid and the Docker repo, Google took down Pi-hole Droid, not us. The developer of the Docker repo works closely with us so there’s not much sense in issuing a trademark battle there. It’s easy to make assumptions without having all the facts, but I appreciate you bringing these issues up.

In terms of your repo, yes, you have been cooperative in offering the Pi-hole org to take over, but that means it becomes a product we offer and support, which we’re not ready to do. Our internal development of v4.0 will not integrate easily with what you are doing.

In summation, you seem to be stuck on some of the package name suggestions, but they were simply examples. My sticking point is pip install pihole is misleading and I would like to see it changed. Are you open to changing it? I hope you are. I have made an a offering to adjust our trademark guidelines so I’m hoping you’ll follow suit with renaming pip install pihole.

No, it’s because it would create a base line.

According to the guidelines is the name of the Docker repo a clear violation. “we, the Pi-hole developers, have worked on” sound completely different than “works closely with us”. This simple substantiate my argument that you already bend your own rules if it suits you.

Again, Docker container: “The developer of the Docker repo works closely with us…” doesn’t sound like “Developed by Pi-hole” but docker pull diginc/pi-hole is no issue. This will not install Pi-hole but a container that contains Pi-hole and is doing something completely different than your command-line tool is doing. This is exactly the same thing as pip install pihole or go get go-pihole (or whatever the command is for installing a go package).

Anyway, I already spent enough time on this issue and will simply change the name.

Just a side note about the reputation. The first hit on Google for a Pi-hole Docker container which is done by a community member shows a Pull count of 7’443’370 (please make the assumptions about the actual amount of users and the donations they make on your own).

I made the image for my self because I like hosting things in docker. I’ve invested lots of time but have never earned a cent from it. I’m content with having one of the top 200 downloaded images on docker hub/store. I consider my image an unofficial, open, transparent, wrapper of the offiical pi-hole installer. Wrapping open source products into a convenient to use docker image is pretty much docker’s whole purpose.

As Jacob mentioned they know how to contact me if they want me to add or change anything. Back when I wrote my original ReadMe there was no LLC…a blurb like ‘rights of the pi-hole ™ brand belong to Pi-Hole, LLC’ would probably help set a good example for ‘good’ third-party to official pi-hole usage.

It always depends when a trademark owner should take action, creating brand confusion with something not official, siphoning donations based off brand usage, and the like are totally legitimate reasons but deserve to be considered on a case by case basis. Having a conversation with official pi-hole is always a good start when creating a third party related product, just create it and share it. or if it’s a large time investment maybe pitch the idea first.

Yes, as the trademark holder, we reserve the right to enforce or not enforce it. The trademark exists so consumers know that when they see Pi-hole (or pihole or pi-hole, in some cases) they know it’s the same Pi-hole that we work on. Choosing to not enforce it for someone we work with vs. enforcing it on a project that’s not affiliated with us are two different things. In any case, we can always give written permission to use the trademarks if need be.

Thank you.

Just to be clear: I never claimed that my module is official, Pi-hole LLC knows how to contact me on different channels as well, the code is open-source, the repository public, nothing is hidden or kept secret, there was no Pi-hole LLC when the code was created almost 2 years ago (now there is when the code was re-written for better performance and put in module that others can re-use it), no complains out of Pi-hole community back then regarding anything and in most ecosystems my usage would be considered “fair use”.

@diginc, I guess that you see some parallels.

Just to quote myself…

…and for the fine distinction between “worked on” and “worked with” is my English not good enough.

For future reference, the statement from Dan Schaper on this matter:

Small exempt:

Full conversation:

Yes, that is my statement. We will protect the trademark as required by US trademark law. It is not selectively enforced. I am the sole owner of Pi-hole LLC which holds the EUPL copyrights on the Pi-hole code. None of this is hidden or new.

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